Yes, folks, it’s Easter—that time of year in which we celebrate the advent of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, with all that suggests: fertility, new life, rebirth, the end of the darkness of Winter. No wonder then that this celebration, named after Ishtar (pronounced “Easter”)—the Babylonian goddess of fertility, war, love, and sex—involves eating, drinking, eggs, buns and rabbits.
Oh, and a dead figure from Christian mythology: the Christian festival having been grafted onto (and borrowed from) the pagan.
Ishtar’s Sunday commemorated the resurrection of her consort, a god called "Tammuz," believed to be the only begotten son of the moon-goddess and the sun-god. It was celebrated with rabbits and eggs, and sacred cakes with the marking of a "T" or cross on the top (sounding familiar?).
But there were other pagan celebrations from which the Christian mythology borrowed.
The hometown of Saint Paul for example, who almost single-handedly grafted the myth of resurrection onto the bare bones of the life and death of an un-prophetic prophet,* re-enacted every four years the sacred drama of Heracles’ martyrdom by fire (“…he went upon Mount Oeta, having built a high pyre and mounted it. He commanded his servants to set it afire… The pyre was still burning when a thunderclap was heard, and the hero, freed of his mortal self, was taken up into the sky”). Heracles was called Prince of Peace, Sun of Righteousness, Light of the World—his “sun” was greeted daily with the words “he is risen,” and his body sacrificed at the spring equinox.
The Persian and Indian god Mithra also had his festival on the spring equinox (a potent time on the agricultural calendar). His religion had a eucharist or “Lord’s Supper,” at which Mithra said “He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him shall not be saved.”
Those familiar with Germanic myth and folklore will recall that in the Icelandic Edda, it is told that the All—Father Odin (Wotan, Othin, Woden) hung himself on the world tree, Yggdrasil:
I ween that I hung | on the windy tree,
Hung there for nights full nine;
With the spear I was wounded, | and offered I was
To Othin, myself to myself,
On the tree that none | may ever know
What root beneath it runs.
None made me happy | with loaf or horn,
And there below I looked;
I took up the runes, | shrieking I took them,
And forthwith back I fell…
Then began I to thrive, | and wisdom to get,
I grew and well I was;
Each word led me on | to another word,
Each deed to another deed.
In fact, the theme of pagan deities breaking bread, saving souls by their sacrifice, by vanquishing darkness, by being hung on trees or nailed up and crucified, is legion. Its A to Z includes, but is not limited to:
- Adad and Marduk of Assyria, who was considered "the Word" (Logos)
- Adonis (right), Aesclepius, Apollo (who was resurrected at the vernal equinox as the lamb), Dionysus, Heracles (Hercules) and Zeus of Greece
- Alcides of Thebes, divine redeemer born of a virgin around 1200 BCE-'
- Attis of Phrygia
- Baal or Bel of Babylon/ Phoenicia
- Balder and Frey of Scandinavia
- Bali of Afghanistan • Beddru of Japan
- Buddha and Krishna of India
- Chu Chulainn of Ireland
- Codom and Deva Tat of Siam
- Crite of Chaldea
- Dahzbog of the Slavs
- Dumuzi of Sumeria
- Fo-hi, Lao-Kiun, Tien, and Chang-Ti of China, whose birth was attended by heavenly music, angels and shepherds-'
- Hermes of Egypt/Greece, who was born of the Virgin Maia and called "the Logos" because he was the Messenger or Word of the Heavenly Father, Zeus.
- Hesus of the Druids and Gauls
- Horus, Osiris and Serapis of Egypt
- Indra of Tibet/ India • leo of China, who was "the great prophet, lawgiver and savior" with 70 disciples3
- Issa/Isa of Arabia, who was born of the Virgin Mary and was the "Divine Word" of the ancient Arabian Nasara/ Nazarenes around 400 BCE4
- Jao of Nepal • Jupiter/Jove of Rome • Mithra of Persia/India
- Odin/Wodin/Woden/Wotan of the Scandinavians, who hung himself on the World Tree to acquire knowledge, and was "wounded with a spear."
- Prometheus of Caucasus/Greece
- Quetzalcoatl of Mexico
- Quirinius of Rome
- Salivahana of southern India, who was a "divine child, born of a virgin, and was the son of a carpenter," himself also being called "the Carpenter," and whose name or title means "cross-borne" ("Salvation")
- Tammuz of Syria, the savior god worshipped in Jerusalem
- Thor of the Gauls
- Universal Monarch of the Sibyls
- Wittoba of the Bilingonese/Telingonese
- Zalmoxis of Thrace, the savior who "promised eternal life to guests at his sacramental Last Supper. Then he went into the underworld, and rose again on the third day"
- Zarathustra/Zoroaster of Persia
- Zoar of the Bonze
So on this holiday of all holidays, enjoy it in the safe and certain knowledge that while it’s certainly an age-old religious holiday (in the Northern Hemisphere at least), it really has nothing at all to do with the nailing up of an itinerant and largely unimportant Jewish carpenter from Nazareth.
* * * *
* The resurrection itself, of which Tertullian famously pronounced it must be true since it is so absurd, was a story manufactured almost wholly by Paul/Saul of Tarsus, seeing his chance for fame and fortune by leveraging himself to the helm of this new movement. “The first reference [to the resurrection] comes from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, written about AD 55, but even this is twenty years after the events Paul describes. By now Jesus is referred to as `the anointed one', Christos in Greek. Paul does not mention the tradition of the empty tomb at all. He has heard of four appearances or visions of Christ, none involving women and none related to any particular place, although an appearance to James, the brother of Jesus, was presumably in Jerusalem. One of these, to five hundred brethren, some of whom were no longer alive, is recorded nowhere else. Paul ends by adding his own vision of Christ, `on the road to Damascus', as a conversion experience. None of these six accounts, three in Paul's letters and three in Acts, suggests a physical, in the sense of a touchable, dimension to Jesus. In Acts he is simply a light with the power of speech, a clear contrast with Luke's earlier gospel account of a Jesus of `flesh and bones' (Luke 24:39). Paul [who had never met Jesus, let alone heard what he had to say] appears determined to give himself the same status as the other [disciples by manufacturing a meeting] that those travelling with him did not see.”
NB: Contains excerpts and notes from Joseph Campbell’s Thou Art That, S Acharya’s The Christ Conspiracy, T.W. Doane’s Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, Kersey Graves’s The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviours,and Charles Freeman, A New History of Early Christianity.